BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John W. Dower, author of "Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II," wh--what did you feel like the moment they told you you won the National Book Award?
Professor JOHN DOWER, AUTHOR, "EMBRACING DEFEAT: JAPAN IN THE WAKE OF WORLD WAR II"): I felt very good.
Prof. DOWER: Well, because it had been a long haul, and because it's a subject that usually specialists read about. And I--I thought it was wonderful that--that it was reaching an audience beyond my type of an academic community, and that was gratifying.
LAMB: This cover--the picture--means something. What is it?
Prof. DOWER: Well, it's the very moment when the Japanese people were hearing the emperor's voice--which they had never heard before--on August 15th, 1945, and he was telling them that the war had been lost. And most people didn't have radios at the time, so in rural areas and in the cities even, they gathered around a single radio. They'd been told there'd been an important broadcast, and they listened to his voice. And that was the moment when the book begins.
And I also wanted in the photograph--and I wanted that on the cover because I wanted to get the experience of ordinary people. What does it mean to be told you fought a war and lost?
LAMB: The emperor, you say in the book, was 44 years old. What was his name--at the--at--at the end of the war--what was his name? And how did he relate to the--that populous then?
Prof. DOWER: Well, Emperor Hirohito was emperor beginning in 1926. So he had come on the throne as a very young man. And two decades--from '26 to '45--Japan had gone to war in his name. And they said they were fighting for the imperial way, and he had lent himself to that. He was a very detached man. He'd been socialized not to really communicate with ordinary people. He spoke in a very ornate, formal language that was really quite different. He really was a--a--someone once said to me, reading about it, it was like the wolf boy; he had been isolated from real contact with people.
And at this moment, the question was: How do you tell people that you've asked them to fight, really, for 15 years, from the beginning of the 1930s? He himself proposed that he would make the broadcast and that people would then follow that. And his reasons for doing so were complicated. They were very complicated. And my position regarding him is a little complex, also, and a little bit, perhaps, different than what other people have said.
LAMB: Explain that.
Prof. DOWER: Well, the usual view has been that Emperor Hirohito was a--a man who was divorced from real policy-making and was basically a pacifist at heart. He was, in fact, a--a very--he wasn't a--a war monger, but he was a man who was a--really attentive to detail, and he knew what was going on. And all of the commands and decisions went before him. So he knew exactly what was going on and whether he—he went along, and he lent his name to this.
But when the war ended, then the question is: `Well, what do we do with this man?' His reasons for ending the war were basically that he knew they had lost, and he was afraid that the situation was so bad, that it could lead to real upheaval in Japan of the throne itself. He was always talking about, `The throne itself could be in jeopardy.' So I--I regard him as a fascinating political figure, whereas the people used to put him up as kind of an abstract symbol. I--I think he's a very interesting man.
LAMB: You work where on a full-time basis?
Prof. DOWER: I work at MIT. I'm the professor of history at MIT.
LAMB: In Boston.
Prof. DOWER: Yes.
LAMB: And this book for you is what number?
Prof. DOWER: Oh, well, if you count sort of edited volumes and--and--and writings, it's about the seventh. But a--as a real monograph, it's about the fourth.
LAMB: Up early in the book, I gather you're married to a Japanese woman.
Prof. DOWER: My wife is Japanese.
LAMB: Where did you meet her?
Prof. DOWER: I met her when I was an undergraduate, so that was long, long ago. And I met her in Japan.
LAMB: What's her name?
Prof. DOWER: Her name is Yasko.
LAMB: And how did you end up getting married? What's this--what were the circumstances?
Prof. DOWER: Well, the circumstances were that--that I really thought she was terrific, and I pursued her and...
LAMB: Where? In--in Tokyo? Were you there?
Prof. DOWER: It was in Japan, and then it was in the States, and then it was back in Japan. I was in publishing for a while. I had dropped out of school, and I went back to Japan and met her, and we married. Again, that was way back in the s--1960s. We've been together 40 years.
LAMB: What was--at that time, did she speak English?
Prof. DOWER: Oh, yeah. And she's been--it--one of the reasons I do history as I do is because we chat a great deal, and we talk about these things. And the type of materials that I--I'm after are all over Jap--all over. I--I'm trying to understand the Japanese experience from all sorts of material, not just formal documents, but songs and films and--and all sorts of things. And there's so many nuances, and--and it's--it's always been nice to have someone to chat with and--and--and to talk these things over with.
And--but because someone like myself has this personal experience in Japan--meaning I have all sorts of in-laws, I have all sorts of, of course, professional contacts in Japan--my sense of the Japanese is, really, a sense of very interesting, diverse group of human beings, you see. So the usual cliches that people fall into, `The Japanese are' blank, because of my experience, they just don't hold.
LAMB: How long or how often have you been in Japan?
Prof. DOWER: Well, I--I--I--I've been in Japan probably, all told—I worked there for about three years, I taught a little, then I was in publishing and book designing, then I came back to school. And I've now lived in Tokyo, I've lived in Kyoto, I've lived in Komocora. I've lived on the West Coast of Japan, where my wife comes from, a city called Kanazawa, one of the few cities in Japan that wasn't bombed during World War II. But--so it's, all told, four or five, six years that I've spent in Japan, back and forth, back and forth.
LAMB: Go back to the book award. Did--did anybody ever tell you why you got it?
Prof. DOWER: No. I d--I don't understand it. It--it looks to me like--I don't understand the procedures, and th--I think there's an element of the lottery in all of this. You know, there's so many good books out, and--and that you--you're selected is a good bit of luck. I--I have no idea.
LAMB: The reason I ask you is I--I wonder, you know, as you were putting this book together, what made your book, in your mind, different than anyone else that had ever written a book about after the war was over in Japan?
Prof. DOWER: Well, I do--I do several things that are different. I--I really have tried to come into this book. Usually people who do Japan after the war come in from the American side. They say, `Japan was defeated in 1945.' That took place in August, 1945. The Americans came in and occupied Japan until April, 1952. So Japan was not an independent nation. It's almost twice as long as the time of the Pacific War. Between Pearl Harbor and the end of the war was three and a half years. Then for another six and a half years, Japan was not a sovereign nation, and the Americans controlled Japan. And so people have always come in and said, `Japan's American interlude,' and they've usually come in from the American documents.
What I was trying to get at was: What does the experience of defeat--shattering defeat--mean for anyone? I mean, it's very different than winning or--that--that's not a--a simplistic statement. It's very different because you have to rethink everything. And I--and I have a chapter in there called What Do You Te--What Do You Tell The Dead When You Lose? There were three million Japanese dead. And h--you know, what do you say when you're told, `Well, it's all in
vain. And now--we were on the wrong track. We have to start over.'
But when we said `the Japanese,' because of my sense of `the Japanese,' it wasn't that I wanted to know just what the emperor or the leaders who left all those records said. I wanted to know what it meant for ordinary people: soldiers, widows, women, children. My wife was--you know, at--at our age, she was a youngster when the war ended. What did it mean for youngsters? And my feeling--because I've been involved with Japan for so long--was that this was the great experience that shaped the whole postwar generation, to have fought and lost and rebuilt. And that's what I wanted to get at.
And because I'm--I'm so interested in those people that you see on the front cover, as well as the policy-makers, I think it made it a little different. I'm--I'm--I'm more tuned to--interested in pop culture, general trends. And so I really tried to range over many Japanese, many voices.
LAMB: What was the population of Japan right near the end of the war, and what is it today?
Prof. DOWER: Well, the Japanese used to--they always talked about their--their propaganda was, `The 100 million hearts beating as one,' and that's one of the cliches that I don't think was true during the war and certainly wasn't after. The 100 million is like `all of us.' The real population at the end of the war was about 70 million. And the loss in the war--I mean, the loss of people who suffered at Japan's hands was enormous, and that's part of the story. But the loss in Japan was about two million fighting men and one million civilians die in the war, which meant that almost everyone in Japan who survives has a personal contact, a personal story with death. And that shapes very much how they think about the war, their victimization. Today, the population is about 120 million.
LAMB: If you put Japan inside of an American context, how big would it be physically?
Prof. DOWER: It would be about like California.
LAMB: At the end of the war, how many people had Japan killed?
Prof. DOWER: Well, it--those numbers are s--are stunning, you know. When we go back as historians now and--we're saying, `Well, you know, how many million are killed?' And we can't get it straight. It was horrendous. I worked--in a previous book--I had done a book on the war before this called "War Without Mercy," which just focused on the war years, but from the American and the Japanese sides. And I really tried to get the figures. The people who suffer, by far, the most at Japanese hands are the Chinese. And the numbers that I--the best numbers I could come up with for Chinese killed in the war with Japan, at that time, were 10 million to 15 million. But you s...
LAMB: What years?
Prof. DOWER: Well, 1931, but that's the question because: How do you count these numbers? You--it--the--the war ends--the book begins on August 15, 1945. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese die after that date. In China, there's famines, there's--there's disorder that's caused by what the Japanese do. So the point is the--for the Chinese, it's from really 1931--and particularly from 1937--until the end of the war. But you must keep in mind that there are people dying after the war. The Chinese now are bumping the numbers up, and I--I don't know on what basis.
One of the forgotten people--we don't even think of it: the people of Indonesia. I mean, Westerners--it doesn't even get in the books now. Perhaps a million people in Indonesia were killed. In the Philippines, 100,000 or--or--or more in the Philippines. So the numbers of Asians that are killed are very large. The number of American combat men killed in the Pacific War is probably around 100,000. It--it's a very--I mean, you can't say ha--more suffering, less suffering, but it is enormous suffering.
What happens in a situation like this is that the Japanese cause the death of enormous amounts of Chinese and other Asians. But because their own losses were so enormous also, this is what they remember more. So they see the war as having victimized them, and that's good, but it's bad. What it has done is instill a deep anti-militarism and pacifism in the Japanese people. There's a real hatred of war there. War came home to Japan, where 66 cities were destroyed or—or v--or--or seriously damaged. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the 65th, 66th. So they think about that, and that makes them anti-war—deep anti-war sentiments, I think, to the present day in Japan. At the same time, makes them forget what they did to others.
LAMB: You have a photograph in the book of a devastated Tokyo.
Prof. DOWER: Yeah.
LAMB: How much did we bomb Tokyo?
Prof. DOWER: We bombed it enormously. And--and one of the striking things, if you pick up any memoir--we--we began the first--Tokyo was the--well, this is a complicated issue. Everyone talks about the atomic bombs, and debates about the morality of the atomic bombs are, you know, very central to our controversies in America. But the real moment where America changed policy, I think, was in March, 1945, when the Americans decided their high-level bombing targeting factories, wasn't working. And in March 9th and 10th, 1945, they went over—went in over Tokyo and began the new policy of napalm bombing.
And that raid in March destroyed 14 square miles in downtown Tokyo. And then they continued to hit the city after that, so that the first people to arrive in Japan--it's--it's almost a standard phrase in the memoirs and reminiscence, they say, `We landed in Yokohama. We got on a truck or something. We drove into Tokyo,' which then would have been a couple of hours drive. And there was nothing. There was nothing. It was a ruined landscape. It was a moonscape. There was a chimney here and metal--they all talk--occasionally there were metal--big metal safes and mile after mile of rubble.
Now there were parts of Tokyo that hadn't been bombed, including the Imperial Palace. The Americans deliberately tried to avoid bombing the emperor's palace. And there were parts of downtown Tokyo that they didn't bomb, and that's what they moved into and turned it into a kind of little America with the American headquarters. But that devastation was enormous.
LAMB: What were the total number of Japanese that the Americans killed in their bombing?
Prof. DOWER: In the bombing all told?
LAMB: All bombings.
Prof. DOWER: Well, these numbers, again, are very hard to--to put together. We now--the numbers that I think are the most accurate now, if we take the atomic bombs--the numbers in the--for the atomic bombs, are about 140,000 in Hiroshima, plus or minus 10,000. And, of course, this is a question, too, you know, because there's long-term deaths and there's immediate deaths. And in Nagasaki, about 70,000 dead, plus or minus 10,000. So that's 210,000 killed in the atomic bombs.
The other bombings of cities are very hard, strangely, to get the statistics. But I put the other--the best numbers I've been able to come up with in ballpark figure is around 400,000 people. So that puts us up over 600,000. Then you have lots of civilians—people don't even know these stories. For example, there were many Japanese civilians in Manchuria who, once the war ended, had to come back. And we estimate now that 100,000 died coming back from Manchuria in '45-'46. Severe winters I--I--one of the times, before I even got into this, when I was living
in Japan, there was a woman--I was living in a house I had rented, and there was a Japanese woman who helped take care of the house—very nice woman. And as I got to know her and--and my wife got to know her, she told us she had been in Manchuria with her husband and four children, and on the way back husband and all four children died on the way back.
So this is the kind of--it--the--but we--we--we don't have the full numbers; that's why I used that ballpark about a million people coming back that--that--about a million people that are not military people who die as a result of the war. So what--what you get with a woman like that is--and it's a good example to understand Japan today—her sense is how we suffered in war and how war is terrible. It's not that--that Americans were terrible. It's not that Chinese were terrible. It's a sense that what a horror war is. And whenever milit--your leaders tell you, `We've got to this. We've got to do this. We've got to invade,' don't listen to them. Find a peaceful way out.
But she's not thinking about what--what the Japanese did to the Chinese, you see. Although the women's movement--and I have enormous respect for--for women and--and citizens' movements in Japan, who don't make it into the newspaper, because if you're in Japan, those--it's those women who lost their husbands, lost their sons. They're very clear on no more wars.
LAMB: Just based on what you know and having been over there a lot and written a lot about them, what are the chances that Japan would go to war again in--you know, in the foreseeable future?
Prof. DOWER: Well, you know, this is a really ironic thing because the--ever since 1950--when the Americans went into Japan in 1945, under jon--General Douglas MacArthur, they said to them, `We're disarming you.' And this was wartime propaganda. `We will take out all of your war-making potential, and you will never wage war again.' Then they went in, and MacArthur said, `We'll totally disarm you.' So there is no military, there is no army, there is no navy, in theory. The ministries are--are taken down. We gave them a constitution. It's our language which says Japan will never exercise the right of belligerency again, the famous Peace Constitution--in 1947, we gave it to them.
And what I do in the book is show people that was a wonderful thing. So many people embraced this. `We can become a beacon of peace in the future. We can have--you know, th--there's nothing else to have pride in. Maybe we can have pride in setting a new path in the future.'
In 1950, the Korean War broke out, and the Americans have been after the Japanese ever since. They were actually pushing them before the Korean War, `Change that Constitution. You have to have a military.' And the pressure from the US for Japan to take part in these things has been enormous ever since then. It was incredible. The time of the Korean War, John Foster Dulles and the Americans came in and said to the Japanese, `You got to have a military. We want you to have a military of 300,000, 350,000 men.' The rest of the world is looking on, said, `You want to rebuild their military now, five years later, after that horrid war?'
And it split the Japanese people. The conservatives said, `Well, we can't quite do it, but we'll work toward it.' And other people said, `This is outrageous. We cherish those ideals because, you know, it reflected what we felt.' So what you have in Japan today is a real complex situation in which Americans are pushing on Japan saying, `Rearm. We want you to, you know, take more active role in peacekeeping.' They t--took terrific ridicule during the Gulf War: checkbook diplomacy, `Won't put your men on the line.' And the conservatives in Japan are saying, `Yeah, we can't hold up our face. People are laughing at us.' And other people in Japan are saying, `No.'
My feeling is that popular sentiment in Japan still is very strong against this, but my feeling also is they'll change the Constitution in--in the very ne--in the near future to permit them to send more troops abroad. But if you take polls in Japan today, everyone—we write a lot about the rise of nationalism in Japan today because it is rising on the right wing. But if you go in and take polls—what drives the right wing crazy is you go in and take polls, and young people say, `I'm not going to fight for my country. I don't want to go into the war, you know. I mean, there are other things in life I--you know, even if we're invaded, I'm not sure I want to fight.' And so the young people have no sense of militarism, as in the past.
LAMB: Where was this picture taken?
Prof. DOWER: Well, this is the most famous picture of the defeated, occupied Japan. It's General MacArthur standing next to Emperor Hirohito. It was taken in General MacArthur's private quarters. He was living in the former US Embassy. And it was taken on September 27, 1945. He went in and he invited the emperor to visit him, and they stood together. And that picture was shown all over Japan.
LAMB: How old is MacArthur in this picture?
Prof. DOWER: MacArthur is 65.
LAMB: How often did those two men meet?
Prof. DOWER: They met 11 times during the occupation. MacArthur was the emperor's best supporter. Nobody supported the emperor like MacArthur. Before he knew a thing about the emperor, he knew he wanted to support the emperor. So he invited him to visit. This was the first visit, September 1945. They met a total of 11 times, always at MacArthur's headquarters. This is n--a revolutionary thing. The great emperor of Japan is going to another person's place; immediately shows the difference in authority. And those meetings were kept secret on the Amer--kept secret.
LAMB: What was Douglas MacArthur's job and title?
Prof. DOWER: Douglas MacArthur was called the supreme commander for the Allied Powers. And, in theory, it was an occupation run by the victorious Allies in World War II. So that meant Britain, China, Australia, New Zealand, France got in on it, the--the Dutch and so on. In theory, although it was called `supreme commander for the Allied Powers,' it was an American show. The Americans ran the occupation. And he--his authority was unquestioned. In fact, they told him right at the beginning, `Your authority in Japan is unquestioned.'
LAMB: What was he like then?
Prof. DOWER: He was imperious--every bit as imperious as the emperor had ever been, and many of the joke was--one of the jokes at the time was, `How can you--we be a democracy if we've got two emperors?' That was the Japanese joke at the time. When the Americans heard about the joke, it was a vaudeville act. Someone came in and said, `They're saying terrible things. There's this guy, you know, in a nightclub, and he's doing a vaudeville act and--and he's making jokes about democracy and having two emperors.' And the Americans rushed in and closed down the show. It was a real problem because he was pushing democracy, but he was functioning as an absolute and unassailable leader.
LAMB: There's a photograph here in your book that says, on this chart, `Mid Summer Mass Dance Party in Appreciation of General MacArthur's Sincere Aide for Japan's Foods'--I can't--I can't read it where I am.
Prof. DOWER: The food crisis.
LAMB: `Food Crisis.'
Prof. DOWER: Well, that's a wonderful photo because--I--I like it particularly because it's--aid is misspelled, A-I-D-E. So you know the Japanese wrote it themselves. It's a--there--but MacArthur was enormously popular. People really were impressed with a man who was a man of war, who comes in and says, `You must become'--he's the one who says to them, `You must become a nation of peace. This is how you can become a beacon in the world. You can become the Switzerland of Asia.' He's a--this is MacArthur, and he was generous.
And what that particular dance party and poster was, in 19--in 1945, when the war ended, was just about harvest time. And the Japanese--their merchant marine was gone. Their empire was gone. There were no imports coming into Japan. And as it happened, they had the worst harvest of grains and foodstuffs in Japan that they had had in decades in 1945. And so malnutr--nutrition was enormous. People were dying of--of--of--of malnutrition on the streets. For two or three years in Tokyo, they were picking up bodies on the streets.
MacArthur moved--and so they were talking about hundreds of thousands would die of starvation. It was really miserable. MacArthur moved very quickly to divert American military supplies and other materials into Japan to help avert the food crisis. And people said, you know, `This is generous.' I mean, he said, `This is necessary because, otherwise, there'll be unrest,' but he also didn't want to see people starving, and people were very impressed. So that was the summer of 1946. They'd gotten through that--that terrible crisis of '45-'46 in good part by Americans sending them flour and various other very basic
LAMB: What was General MacArthur's relationship to the Japanese on a day-to-day basis?
Prof. DOWER: Non-existent. Non-existent. MacArthur never--MacArthur spent his entire time in Japan moving between his house in the American Embassy and his office in a requisition building in downtown Tokyo called the Dai Ichi Building. He would shuffle back and forth, and he never took a single trip elsewhere in Japan. He rarely talked to any Japanese, except very high-ranking people like the prime minister or the foreign minister or the emperor. He never--he--he was simply isolated. I--he seemed to get his knowledge from--well, as he would claim, sort of from God and some vague—we never really know. He was reading his intelligence reports, but he had zero contact with the people, and that was his idea: that they would then respect him as this great detached, almost divine authority, and he would then tell them to be democratic. What anirony.
LAMB: Did you ever meet him? Did you ever meet him?
Prof. DOWER: I never met him.
LAMB: If he were sitting here and you--you were going to do a little ol--oral history and then say to him anything you wanted to say him, based on all you know about him, what would you--what would you feel about him? What would you want to say to him?
Prof. DOWER: I think he was a very, very impressive person, and he wa--I would--he would be distraught at my--some of my approaches to this. But he felt that--that--that Japan had come out of the defeat and occupation and that it was a genuinely viable democracy, and I would agree with him. I think that postwar Japan is a country that is not militaristic, and that is a very flawed democracy, as I think most democracies in the world are. I don't think--I don't know of a perfect democracy, but it's a real democracy. It has a real anti-militaristic spirit, and it cha--there was a change there. And it was by defeat and by the opportunity.
And when he went in--he's a very conservative man in American historical circles. For example, he's famous for the--his suppression of the Bonus Marchers, the World War I veterans who had marched on Washington to get benefits. And he came in as a military man and suppressed this demonstration. He walks into Japan and says, `Open up the labor movement. Let's have protection for labor, right to strike, bargain collectively. Let the Communists come out of prison. Let's have a legal Communist Party. We're going to break up the big—the big Zaibatsu. We're going to promote real civil liberties. We're going to have a pacifist constitution.' It's an amazing it--if it hadn't come from MacArthur, it would have been called a left-wing, progressive a--agenda. And it cracks open the system, and the people really welcome it.
Where I disagr--and he holds on to a demilitarized Japan longer than almost anyone else. Right up to the Korean War, he wants Japan demilitarized. Then he says, `We've got to build a little force because our men are in Japan.' Where I disagree with him most strongly is--and he would--he would be just furious. I mean, he would just--smoke would come out of his ears if he were sitting here now and I said, `You made a mistake keeping the emperor, Hirohito on the throne. I think you made a mistake on that.' And he would--he says that's the key to the stability, and I'd say that's--that was the problem; that was a mistake.
LAMB: When did Hirohito die?
Prof. DOWER: Hirohito lived on and on. He was 44 when the war ended. He died in 1945 and he died in 1989 as a man who was about 89 when he died. And so he just went on and on and on. And one of the things was, because he lived so long, and the Americans came in and said, totally without war responsibility, and because he lived so—on so long, it became kind of a taboo to talk about the emperor's role, and then the whole issue of war responsibility became obscured because MacArthur decided before he arrived in Japan--this is one of my arguments, `I gotta keep this emperor.'
And so the first--at that first meeting, they never investigate the emperor seriously. He walks in and he says, `Oh, it's such a pleasure to meet you.' We have the--the records now from the Japanese side. It's not well known, but we do have the minutes from that first meeting. `It's wonderful to meet you, your--Your Highness.' And he, you know--and then, `I know how much you hated what was going onduring the war years.' And, you know, `How this is such a difficult thing for you.' And he put all this image on this man and said, `If I use him.' And then the emperor comes out and says, `Yes, let's be democratic.' `That's good, I can use him.'
The other thing was, they're always worried about communism, and aslong as you keep the emperor, and don't do anything to him, you won't have upheaval that could lead to riots, chaos and communism, as they always said. So he really felt he had to keep this man on the throne and I'm not sure that was the wisest decision.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
Prof. DOWER: I grew up in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I'm a--I'm a New Englander.
LAMB: What--what towns?
Prof. DOWER: Prov--I--I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, went to public school in Providence, Rhode Island, then I want to undergraduate at Amherst College and then I did some graduate work at Harvard and then I worked in Japan and then I did the PhD at Harvard.
LAMB: What was the family like?
Prof. DOWER: My...
LAMB: Mom and dad. Yeah.
Prof. DOWER: ...my family?
Prof. DOWER: Well, my family was a--was a very good middle-class family. I'm the only child. My father was a--a bookkeeper, an accountant in a company. My--the--the most interesting thing, I think, for my experience, is that if--if I were an Asian, I would have a clear--Asian-American--I would have clear label. I would be a sansei, which means third generation. You know, issei is first generation, nisei is second generation. For third generation you're called sansei.
Well, all my grandparents were--were immigrants. I'm a third-generation American and I--there's a grandparent from Prague by way of Vienna. There's a grandmother, his wife, from Vienna. And then on my father's side, there's Irish-English. And so I'm a third-generation American with this kind of mixed background. And they settled at--my mother's side, settled in Providence, Rhode Island, because her father was one of those--they talk about the hands of Prague, the wonderful hands of Prague, these anonymous craftsmen and artists. And he was one of those hands at the turn of the century, which I just learned recently, who was a jewelry designer and came to America and set up--was brought in as a designer in costume jewelry in Prov--Providence, Rhode Island, and, you know, did very well. When I grew up he had--there was a lot of land there. It was kind of open.
Prof. DOWER: Grapevines.
LAMB: Where did you get your PhD from?
Prof. DOWER: I got the PhD at Harvard.
LAMB: And what was it in?
Prof. DOWER: It was in history and Far Eastern languages.
LAMB: What was your dissertation on?
Prof. DOWER: My dissertation was on the--the man wh--a man named Yoshida Shigeru, Prime Minister Yoshida. He's like Adenauer was in Germany. He was 65 when the war ended. He was a former diplomat and then he becomes prime minister of Japan. He's very conservative, but not militarist. He became prime minister of Japan from 1946 to '54--there was an interruption, but basically. So he's the--he's the--the major political figure in the political party system in postwar Japan.
LAMB: When did you say to yourself, `I want to go to Japan?' First time?
Prof. DOWER: I said it in 1958 when I was a junior in college and I said it because I figured it was as far away as I could go without being on my way back.
LAMB: And what was the--Japan draw, though, itself? I mean, you could have gone to Korea and the...
Prof. DOWER: I was very much in--in literature, and I'm hard of hearing, I'm very visual. And I was very much drawn to cultural things. I was very much draw to--to the visual culture of painting, gardens, architecture and so on. And I found that being there made me very curious about why these things--you know, how do you explain these things? But being in a foreign country like that makes you also very curious about yourself. Why am I like I am? As opposed to, you know, how do we explain these things? And then the other--so--so that was the--the draw and I originally went in to work more on literature and culture.
LAMB: How long have you been hard of hearing? How long?
Prof. DOWER: Have I been...
LAMB: Been hard of hearing?
Prof. DOWER: I've been hard of hearing since college days.
LAMB: And how's that affected your life?
Prof. DOWER: Well, it's a kind of a blessing because of--in--in many ways 'cause I don't hear a lot of things, so I can work at peace. It makes it very hard to--and--I--I--I tend to beg out of committee work at the university because I don't process all that discussion, so that makes it--that's a blessing, I think.
It--when I do my classes, the students learn to--to adjust to it, and I kin--kind of work the room. If I go out and lecture, it's--it's helpful for me to work the room, which I enjoy; getting closer. It makes it a little less formal. It--it's made me much more susceptible, though, to the--to the written word. As a historian, I really go at the record of the time, and I think it's partly because of this that I don't do so much oral history and listening to reminiscences, that I've really tried to go in and recreate it by what's written at the time.
All of history can be wonderful but very misleading because we all know, if we're going to--if I'm going tell you what things were like when I was 20, I'm not 100 percent reliable. But if I can go back and get that written record, but--so--and the other thing is that I do a great deal, in my work, with visual materials. And--and so a number of years ago I began to stop--and I was one of the first, earlier people in the Japan field to start looking at cartoons, films, posters, advertisements, pop art, to understand history itself.
LAMB: What's this?
Prof. DOWER: Well, this is a wonderful cartoon which came out in a little book of--all of cartoons--by a Japanese cartoonist named Katto. Katto is the family name, Katto Etisdo. And Katto Etisdo was a--was a very talented cartoonist who, during the war years, did propaganda cartoons, as just about everyone did. It was their country and you--you said you wanted to win the war. But the--when the war ended, he embraced, as so many people did, the opportunity for a more open, peaceful society. And one year after the emperor's broadcast, in August 1946, he published a little book of cartoons. It was his cartoons from the year called, "The Revolution We Have Been Given." And that...
LAMB: Explain this cartoon.
Prof. DOWER: And that was the opening thing. This was--that was his opening graphic, August 15th, 1945. You can see the date, the 15th. It is an exhausted woman and man. She's dressed in the costume that people wore fighting fires from the air raids. They wore a hood and they would go out--there's a bucket--trying to put out these infernos when cities burned, trying to put them out with--with literally a bucket brigade. He's wearing--he's wearing the--a soldier's uniform. He's a demobilized soldier, as of that date, and he's holding over his should a bamboo spear. Because at that time the Japanese militarists were telling the people, `You've got to defend the homeland against invasion,' and they were--they were actually equipping people with bamboo spears. And the caption to the--to--to it says--this is the exhaustion at the moment of defeat--and the caption says, `What absurdity, to think that we were going to go out and beat people with atomic weapons with bamboo spears.' And what he was capturing was the immediate response at the end of the war is, `The war is horrible and this leadership were idiots.'
LAMB: A bunch of American names are throughout your book. Bonner Fellers. Who is he?
Prof. DOWER: Bonner Fellers was a very interesting military officer who eventually, by this time, was a general. He was interested in Japan as a subject of study, and he actually was very fond of Japan in the 1920s because he had college classmates who came from Japan. In the 1930s he began to train himself as a psychological expert on Japanese psychology. And by the end of the war, he was MacArthur's chief of psychological warfare in the southwest Pacific command. And he had enormous influence, I think, and I argue here, in shaping MacArthur's thinking about the emperor and Japanese psychology.
LAMB: Is it Faubion Bowers?
Prof. DOWER: Faubion Bowers. Faubion Bowers just passed away and it--it's a loss of a great benefactor to Japan as well as a wonderful, colorful man. Faubion Bowers was a young officer who was MacArthur's driver in those early days, and he was a very irreverent fellow. He was one of the--so--he--he writes very wonderful, witty vignettes of MacArthur and what it was like to be driving the grand man.
But Bowers--really fascinating qualities--and--and--and the reason he's so interesting to us, was that he knew Japanese and he was an aficionado of Japanese theater, and particularly Kabuki theater. So when he went into Japan, he spoke Japanese and he had a knowledge and--and a love for traditional Japanese theater that he immediately pursued.
Now one of the things that happened was that they immediately came in--the Americans--and said all this traditional theater, Kabuki theater and puppet theater and--and everything, is full of militarist stories. So they banned all of the--most of the Kabuki repertoire, and all of these things. Feudal men with warfare, `Ah, you know, militarism.'
So all this was banned. Bowers became the great patron of the, as hecalled it at the time, the starving Kabuki actors. He was literally bringing food to them from the PXes and he became someone who worked for the rehabilitation of--of traditional theater, and he was someone who understood a Japan other than the people committing atrocities.
LAMB: During the occupation period, from 1945 to 1952, how many American soldiers were based in Japan?
Prof. DOWER: Well, you know, the--they start out with the end of the war--about 400,000 Americans move into Japan. And then it settles down to about 200,000 at any given time. You drop into Japan from 1945 to 1952, there's about 200,000 American soldiers based there. But they're rotating, and I've never actually added it up. And my guess would be about a million American military and many of them bringing dependants...
Prof. DOWER: ...are--are--are moving to Japan.
LAMB: The SCAP, which stood for Supreme Command of Allied...
Prof. DOWER: Yes, it--it--it means Supreme Command for the Allied
Powers, which is the headquarters, but it is also sometimes is applied to MacArthur as Supreme Commander. SCAP we call it.
LAMB: GHQ is used a lot.
Prof. DOWER: Yeah. GHQ is the general headquarters under MacArthur's command and that is really the command section. And there's--we're talking about--really thi--this is the grouping--SCAP--right under MacArthur that's addressing not military issues about troops stationed in Asia, but the issues of what do we do with Japan. And it has a whol--GHQ, general headquarters, has a government section, has an economic and scientific section, has a civil intelligence and education section, has a counterintelligence section. And we're talking about, at the peak, maybe 1,500 Americans who are really in an--in extraordinarily responsible positions of policy-making.
LAMB: Who wrote the Japanese--the new Japanese constitution?
Prof. DOWER: In February--it's almost an anniversary, as we talk 'cause we're talking here in February. In--in February 1946, MacArthur called in government section, which was a small--which was an important but small section under GHQ--and he said, `We've got to write a model constitution for the Japanese because what they're coming up with--we told them they gotta change their old constitution, which isn't democratic. And they're just coming up with—with tokenistic, cosmetic stuff.'
`Therefore,' he said, `we have to draft a model constitution for the Japanese.' And there was a feeling that they had to do it quickly and so they called in a group from government section about--in the end, about 20, 25 people, and they said to them--they're told, `General MacArthur said you must write a model constitution for Japan.' They said, `Yes, sir,' to--to Whitney, who was the head of government section. `How long do we have?' He says, `You have one week.'
So in one week, this group of American men and some women drafted a new constitution for Japan, which is one of the most remarkable, progressive--liberal, progressive documents in the world. They gave it to the Japanese, the Japanese then responded to it, translated to it, debated it in their parliament, changed it over time. But they passed it in 1947. Not a word has ever been changed because the Japanese people have essentially accepted the ideals of that.
LAMB: One of the things--I--I noticed throughout your book, you kept referring to the Japanese leaders that you were writing about as breaking down in tears.
Prof. DOWER: Yeah.
LAMB: At times when they were even writing...
Prof. DOWER: Yeah.
LAMB: ...the constitution. What was the about? I mean, did that surprise you?
Prof. DOWER: Well, the--the--it's the Japanese leaders. It's the old guard. You know, what happens is they go in and the—the governments, after the war, are very conservative. There's one moment there was a socialist. He's a Christian member of the Socialist Party who becomes prime minister after the war and--and runs a very shaky coalition cabinet. But basically, the leadership remains conservative, not militaristic, but civ--old, civilian conservatives.
And they don't want all these reforms. They think that Japan can't be dem--democratic. They don't want all this stuff. But they're so worried about the emperor, and MacArthur tells them, `You make things democratic, the emperor will be OK.' Then he comes in and says, `You've got to change the constitution.'
Now the old constitution says, `The emperor is supreme and inviolable.' And the old constitution says Japanese people--it keeps stressing--this is their rights, this is their--you know, this is their--not--I'm sorry, it--it stresses this is their duties. They have rights but only unless otherwise stipulated by law. So it's a very conservative document which the Americans felt had enabled militarism to take hold in Japan. It's not democratic.
There's no such thing as a citizen in Japan under the old constitution. Everyone is a subject of the emperor. I actually fell into the trap writing the book and I was talking about prewar Japanese citizens, and I said to myself, `Wait.' You know, I've--you know, there--there was no such thing as a citizen. Sovereignty resides entirely in the emperor.
So suddenly these men of--of--are given this piece of paper and it says, `Popular sovereignty.' Sovereignty resides in the people, the emperor will be nothing but a symbol of the state. There will be no military establishment whatsoever, is what it says, and it gives them an incredible array of rights, including an ERA clause, that women will have equal rights to men. And these men see this as violating their national charter under which all of them had grown up.
And these men are deep--deeply devoted to the emperor. So they—when they are faced with this fait accompli, the Americans say, `This is what you've got to do.' They say, `We have no choice.' And in the book I mention that several of the people, the prime minister and cabinet ministers, weep that, `We have to do this.' But--you can say it's forced on them, but Katayama, the socialist prime minister later, who thought this was a grand constitution, says, `This was forced on the conservatives. This was not forced on the Japanese people.' That this was something and the people--it really was a well-received document.
LAMB: What does your Japanese wife, now American--she American now?
Prof. DOWER: She's a Japanese citizen still.
Prof. DOWER: Yes.
LAMB: Well, what does she your thesis, your book? Do you argue about anything?
Prof. DOWER: We talked about everything, but I never--the way we work together is we always chat. We just chat about documents and materials and language. It--it was wonderful, you know. I mean, you know, it took so long to do the book, there were a lot of chats.
LAMB: How long did it take, by the way?
Prof. DOWER: Well, the previous book was 1986, but this came out in 1999. So--and I'd sort of been thinking about this before. So we're talking 10 to 15 years. So there were a lot of conversations. But once I do it, the relationship as we chat about it--but I don't move the pages or the text past her. So I'll have to ask her when I go back if she's read it.
LAMB: Where does she live, here?
Prof. DOWER: She's in Boston with...
LAMB: And what does she do?
Prof. DOWER: She's a potter.
LAMB: Have you all had children?
Prof. DOWER: We have three children.
LAMB: And in the book you say that some of the money for the project came from the Japan Foundation.
Prof. DOWER: Yes.
LAMB: What did--who is the Japan Foundation?
Prof. DOWER: Well, back in, I guess--the Japan Foundation probably came up in the 1960s. The Japan Foundation--academics have to draw on many sources, so we--we have all sorts of things to go to. One is, you know, the Social Science Research Council, National Endowment for the Humanities. And in 1960s, money was put aside in Japan for the study of projects relating to Japan--academic study of projects relating to Japan. That money was called J--that foundation is called the Japan Foundation. The committees that you apply to are American committees. So if I'm going for the money and apply for grant to the Japan Foundation, that grant actually is processed by a group of American academics, usually, and to submit it as a regular grant proposal. So there's no way the Japanese government has any say, really, on--on the research or anything of this. It's money that's been put into the public domain for the study of Japan.
LAMB: And in your introduction, you say, `I had the good fortune being associated for a year with the postwar financial history project...'
Prof. DOWER: Yeah.
LAMB: `...of the Japanese Ministry of Finance.' What was that?
Prof. DOWER: Wonderful opportunity. The Japanese love having official histories, love having official histories. So they are always putting out these huge, multivolume "History of," you know, "the Ministry of Finance," or the history of something. And the—the hist--the Ministry of Finance in Japan has a whole series of volumes which is Japanese financial policy in the, you know, 19th century, Japanese financial policy from this to this.
And in the 1970s, they decided it was time to put out an official history of Japanese financial policy from 1945 to 1952, the period that they were occupied. And what they did was they have people in their historical section, every--like the American bureaucracy has historians, you know, the Army, the Navy, the State Department. We all have historical offices here. The historical office there went out in the Japanese academic community and brought in about 20--20 or 30 Japanese economic financial scholars, historians and specialists. And they're very interesting because Japan has a broader political range. So some of them are Marxist economists, some of them are neo-Marxist, some were conservative. They bring all of these people in. Then--because so much of the documentation from that period is inEnglish because it was an American occupation--they were sending people over here to collect the documents, the millions of pages of stuff, of course. And it was just coming available in the US because we start to tr--let our documents go out 30 years, really, after the event. So all sorts of interesting stuff was coming out in America.
And I had a grant at that time to go to Japan. And the minute that—I was interested in this period, and the Ministry of Finance brought me and a couple of other Americans in, saying, `Well, would you participate in this project?,' you know. `You can sit here, you can look at all our material and then you--you study it and give a report to our study group.' So I had the rare opportunity--with a couple of other Western scholars--of sitting there, doing research and having access to all sorts of Japanese materials, but also helping them by reading the Western stuff and then presenting it at a big seminar.
LAMB: How good's your Japanese?
Prof. DOWER: My Japanese is OK. It's--but I--I don't think I want to do another big seminar to the Minister of Finance immediately.
LAMB: You won the National Book Critics Circle Award for "War Without Mercy" and then you won the National Book Award for this book. What's the difference in those awards, and what do they mean?
Prof. DOWER: Well, the National Book Critics Circle Award is determined by book reviewers, prof--book reviewers in the media in the United States. It's a very large group. And it is a--a--these are really work-a-day book people and reviewers in the United States who decide--pick a short list of the best books of the year, and then announce a winner. And in 1986, I--I--I had done a book called "War Without Mercy"--the subtitle is "Race and Power in the Pacific War," in which I was trying to look at the war from both the Japanese side and the Western side. How were these two pe--antagonists--it was sucha vicious war--how were they looking at each other? One of the reasons I got into that book is, I couldn't figure out how you could have such a vicious war and such a really constructive occupation. And so I ended up going back in the war. That book went up for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Awards, and it won the National Book Critics Circle Award. This year, the new book won the National Book Award and it's actually up for the National Book Critics Circle Award, which will be decided later.
LAMB: Where--where did you write the book, physically?
Prof. DOWER: Where did I write it? Oh, I wrote it everywhere. It was 13 years. I wrote it in Japan. I wrote it in the United States. I--I used to take off--I--I--it's a lot of--a lot of work. I mean, there's 18 chapters in the book. And, you know, sometimes a chapter would take almost a year. Sometimes I could get a couple of chapters done in a year. I went off and I'm--I'm a bit of a hermit. And so I went off and secluded myself up in the rural area--Nagano prefecture where the Olympics were for a summer--and just wrote about economics up there for a summer.
I went to a lake in Minnesota--my wife and I fish. She's a great fisher person. And so we were fishing and talking, doing history and--and writing. I did that in Minnesota. I do a lot here. I—I don't work at the university. I--I tend to work at my home and kind of detach myself. I do things--I now live in--I have a house in Falmouth. And I do--it's also on a fishing pond, and I--I tend to just isolate myself from work in these various places.
LAMB: What do you write with?
Prof. DOWER: Well, I started this book--I'm--I'm--I'm at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But I'm--I'm sort of a dinosaur in the modern age, and I started this book writing by hand. I used to love to write by hand. There was a kind of esthetic to it. But obviously, that--that didn't work out so by the end--I work on a PC now.
LAMB: Are you quick?
Prof. DOWER: I'm quick. Give me on--yeah. I'm quick on this, yeah. But--but something like this--a book like this, when it was finished, it--I--it probably goes through 10, 12 drafts, a book like this. And when it was finished, I had put sort of different drafts into my pile of drafts, were sitting in a corner of a room. And it was well over a meter tall of the many drafts I had gone through. And--and--it--it--for me--and partly because I come out from literature perhaf--perhaps, it's the--that process at the end. It was much longer, for example. I had to get everything in. But it's the proc--at the end of throwing things out and getting it down and pulling it together. And there were things--you know, I'd say, `My gosh, that was--that was the sum--that was four months work, but it doesn't fit.' That's very painful, but I think that's what somehow brings things together.
LAMB: Next book?
Prof. DOWER: Well, I--I've been thinking--I--I don't have it—since it takes me so long--you know, it takes me 10 years, really, to do a--to do one. So I don't have many more of those 10 years segments in me. I think I've got one more. And I thought I wanted to do something, perhaps, called "Facing East, Facing West," in which I really go back to the opening of the American and European encounter with China and Japan and East Asia in the mid-1900s. I'd go back to then when Japan is forced open and China, as well--but—but particularly Japan--and see how the Americans and Europeans, looking at Asia, and how are they describing it and, in turn, how are they being seen by the Asians. And so, it's holding mirror against mirror. And that would enable me to go back to one of my loves, which is the visual record and--as well as the textual record.
LAMB: Here's the cover of the book, winner of the National Book Award, "Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II." Our guest has been Professor John W. Dower of MIT. Thank you very much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.